The truth behind Turkey’s wildfire and flood crises

Turkey has recently been struck by devastating wildfires and flash floods, making people question the government’s disaster management and unplanned urban sprawl. The Erdoğan regime has refused to take responsibility, pointing fingers at climate change and social media ‘traitors.’

Turkey has recently been struck by devastating wildfires and deadly flash floods, making people question the government’s disaster management as well as its unplanned urban sprawl.

However, the Erdoğan regime has not taken any responsibility. Official statements put the blame on climate crisis or individuals as if they were responsible for building houses or protecting forests.

Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) issued a fine of 3.3 million liras to FOX TV, KRT, Tele 1, HaberTürk, Halk TV and TR 35 for their broadcasting of the wildfires. 

Additionally, artists were targeted via their pictures being called “traitors” by government-sponsored media for their use of the hashtag “Help Turkey” regarding the wildfires on social media.

President Erdoğan claimed that these individuals as well as the opposition were trying to depict Turkey as a failing state, saying that the country is perfectly capable of dealing with the fires.

A lack of preparation

Forest engineers in Turkey have said that when a wildfire starts, the first half an hour is critical. Thus, if a country does not have the necessary equipment and trained personnel, it cannot effectively quell the fire. During the recent wildfires, it was revealed that the Forestry and Agriculture Ministry does not possess a single firefighting plane.

The ministry spent 7.2 million liras hiring a fleet of official cars and 7.5 million liras on landscaping for the Beştepe Presidential Premises, but could not find 4 million dollars to refit its existing firefighting planes, which have been sitting in an airdock for years.

Associate professor and forest engineer Cihan Erdönmez told Duvar English that the Forest Engineering Association had warned the Ministry many times of the risks associated with wildfire season in July-August, telling them to take the necessary precautions. Even last year, the areas affected by wildfires doubled compared to previous years.

The latest wildfires have smashed all such records: According to Euronews, the areas ravaged with wildfires in Turkey grew by 755 percent; In the first eight months of 2021, 177.476 hectares of forests were burned down; Eight people are dead along with thousands of animals.

People I talked to from Bodrum, Köyceğiz, and Marmaris insist that authorities cared about the wildfires, but that action was slow and inadequate. Many think there is a secret agenda. Most towns have created their own volunteer forces, from sending basic first aid equipment to those helping people excavate. However, the spontaneous solidarity and help, some organized by the Ankara and Istanbul municipalities, was not welcomed by the regime.

No volunteers allowed

President Erdoğan announced that volunteers would not be allowed due to risk and that all aid goes through the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). This may sound logical in terms of policymaking and disaster management, but many see the regime as wanting to take all the credit and avoid criticism.

The flash flood in the western Black Sea region was on the news the next day, but the rescue teams could arrive until the end of the day. By the fourth day, excavation and first aid were still not active.

The death toll in the region is rising, while heavy rainfall continues to devastate other provinces in the east. The official death toll is 44 in Bartın, Kastamonu, and Sinop as of August 14. However, locals, politicians, and rescue workers fear that the real number is over a hundred. Visiting the disaster zone, CHP MP Engin Altay said that 329 persons are missing.
The Black Sea region often experiences heavy rainfalls, but not usually in August. Locals told Duvar English that they had experienced worse floods, but that this time the hydropower plant blocking the river was worsened conditions and resulted in tragedy.

Meanwhile, the authorities continue to blame climate change, despite that Turkey has refused to ratify the Paris Climate Accords. They ignore the fact that the government handed out permits for housing as well as coal power plants and hydropower plants in already risky regions. The resulted in the destruction of habitats and ultimately resulted in disaster

So, the latest disasters cannot be explained away as nature taking its toll. It is a combination of mismanagement, corruption, urban sprawl, and climate denial.